One certainty on campus at UW-Madison this fall is the cows.

Five months after they were removed from UW-Madison’s Dairy Cattle Center because of the COVID-19 pandemic, cows returned Sept. 1 to the Dairy Cattle Center.

The Dairy Cattle Center is home to 84 milking cows in a tie-stall barn. There is a classroom attached to the facility, which allows students to have hands-on access to cows during all lab practical sessions. The Dairy Cattle Center is used by undergraduate, graduate and professional students in UW–Madison’s dairy science, veterinary medicine and Farm and Industry Short Course programs for hands-on training and research.

The center was temporarily shuttered on March 27, shortly after students left campus during the spring semester following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Without students on campus or research projects, the cows had spent the summer at Emmons Blaine Dairy Cattle Research Center located at the university’s Arlington Agricultural Research Station.

During a typical academic year, more than a dozen classes use the Dairy Cattle Center. It is also used for numerous research projects that require close proximity to campus laboratories.

Of course, this year may not be typical on campus.

Shortly after the cows, and students, returned to campus for the fall semester, a spike in the number of positive COVID-19 tests among students and faculty led to a temporary move to online instruction and to two residence halls to be quarantined. On Sept. 9, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced in a news release that all in-person undergraduate, graduate and professional school group instruction will be paused through Sept. 25 with in-person instruction resuming on Sept. 28.

Heidi Zoerb, associate dean of External Relations and Advancement with UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said that for the next couple weeks, instructors in courses that use the Dairy Cattle Center will teach remotely. The cows will remain in the center, and other activities, including milking and research projects, will continue as they did before, she said.

“The recent abrupt change in university operations as a result of increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases has our faculty and animal care staff making a lot of quick changes,” Zoerb said. “At this time, undergraduates are not working at the center. Professional staff, graduate students and veterinary students are caring for the herd.”

There are campus-wide public health protocols for people across UW-Madison this year. These include wearing masks inside and outside and maintaining at least six-feet of distance between people, along with additional cleaning protocols in classrooms and other spaces, including the Dairy Cattle Center locker rooms, Zoerb said.

Zoerb said plans were made to keep the Dairy Cattle Center operating in the event that other COVID-19 issues arise on campus this year.

“The center has continuity of operations plans in place to care for the herd under many different scenarios,” she said. “We expect the cows to remain on campus.”